Danielle McClellan's Reviews > State of Wonder

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett
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Jun 19, 2011

it was amazing
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Read on June 19, 2011

I thought that Ann Patchett had made her great contribution to literature with "Bel Canto," which seemed to me to be the perfect novel, and stays high on the list of my very favorites. It is the book that I sold by hand as a bookseller and the book that I still pass along to friends. I should keep a stack of them since I have handed mine off so many times that I never know if I have a copy or not. A jewel box of structure, character, and language that left me overwhelmed with admiration.

Since reading that book, I have read Patchett's other books and enjoyed them all, particularly "Run," but never again have I had that out-of-body, transcendent reading experience until now. "State of Wonder" is absolutely mind-boggling good. I have just finished it in a straight reading jag that thankfully fell when the kids were out of town with my husband for the weekend (otherwise, I am afraid that it would have been bad-mommy mac and cheese and a cartoon movie in order to carve out the reading time I needed).

I don't want to give anything away, except to say that this is "Heart of Darkness" recast in contemporary Brazil, and Patchett's heroine, who goes into the forest on a mission and finds herself tested at every point, is beautifully rendered. I dare any reader to put the book down during the final fifty pages. It is a fantastic, inevitable ending that I never saw coming.
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04/08/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-12)




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Martin McClellan I just finished this last night. Woe be to the soul who thinks they will read just a little bit towards the end, and not stay up for hours. Thankfully, soon after I finished and finally shut off the light much to the relief of my poor wife, my infant son kept me up for a few hours attempting to put his fingers in my mouth and remove my glasses, so I had plenty of time to sit in the dark and go over what had just happened to me. Because Patchett's complex prose kind of gallops under your eyes and you end up hypnotized into thinking you are actually living in her novel.

Besides Conrad, in interviews she had said Evelyn Waugh's "A Handful of Dust", Henry James' "The Ambassadors", and especially Werner Herzog's Amazonian masterpieces "Aguirre Wrath of God" and "Fitzcarraldo" were large influences. I think an expedition up those rivers is in order.


message 11: by Lilian (new) - added it

Lilian Sarlos Tippy- I agree completely. I never saw either of the endings coming. I thought there was just the right amount of magical realism in this one! I loved the snake battle and the Rapps!

What a luxury for me I no longer have toddlers or babies I have to neglect in order to fall into books, just the boxes in the basement and they are so much more patient and quiet. Not to mention my eleven year old now gets it when I can't put the book down. When she talks to me and I say, "hey, right now I am reading, I'm sorry I can't help you with that." She says, "Mom, don't worry, I get it, you're at the good part? lots of cliff hangers, huh?"


message 10: by Dale (new) - added it

Dale Short Danielle: I love your comparison of Patchett's style to "a jewel box." Very apt.


Marsha P Ha, I, too, thought of Heart of Darkness as I read it!


Featherbooks Nicely put, Dani.


message 7: by Victoria (new)

Victoria Brown I started this book and gave up quite early, but now I am going to go back and try again. I did that with Allende's House of the Spirits, and after I went back to it, it ended up being one of my favorite books. My brain was not in the right place apparently. Thanks for a great review.


message 6: by moe (new) - rated it 2 stars

moe Bel Canto was a revelation for me,I thought was so unusual, the book so well written I raved about it friends. Since them most of her books and loved them all especially Truth and Beauty.
State of Wonder was my first disappointment. There are so many holes to poke in the plot and I felt she resorted to gimmickry (cannibals next door, women eating bark) the fact that a major,rich drug company had to send a completely unqualified person to bring back a rebel researcher and none of this rang true to me. I'm reading Taft right now and recommend it.


Danielle McClellan moe wrote: "There are so many holes to poke in the plot and I felt she resorted to gimmickry (cannibals next door, women eating bark) the fact that a major,rich drug company had to send a completely unqualified person to bring back a rebel researcher and none of this rang true to me."

That is fascinating, Moe. I had such a different response to State of Wonder. I went into a full suspension of disbelief and never came out of it. (I think I am still there.)

I do agree with you about Truth and Beauty. I read it and then immediately reread Autobiography of a Face, which is an excellent book as well.


Sheila Spoiler Alert: I'm in between on this book. It's my first time reading Ann Patchett, and I liked the writing and got really into it at first, but found it slower in the middle. The end shocked me. I am wondering what others thought of giving up Easter. He's a child who can't know why they are doing that since he is deaf, which was so horrifying to me. But, I also think about Dr. Swenson saying that the tribe wouldn't have cared for him/ Was that just her racism/prejudice? They had brought him to be saved and come back for him, and seemed to want him when they saw him again, so hopefully they do care for him, but leaving him also seemed like a racist move. The message is: It's okay to leave the amazonian boy in an unknown world, but not the American man with children at home. It also brings me back to when Marina questions whether Dr. Swenson thinks her life is worth less because she doesn't have a husband and children. Interesting, but odd for me because these issues weren't dealt with directly, which left me wondering the point Patchett was trying to make.


message 3: by Beth (new)

Beth I loved Patron Saint of Liars, but I could not make it through Bel Canto or this one! SO frustrating.


Penny I agree with the comparison to Heart of Darkness and Bel Canto is the best of her writing.


message 1: by michele (new) - added it

michele guerrette Bel canto


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